When and where did the first metal key locks appear (not the door bolts)?

When did they became widespread?

  • 7
    Wikipedia is your friend - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lock_%28device%29#History_of_locks
    – Opt
    Jan 3, 2012 at 16:16
  • 1
    It says from the Antiquity.
    – Anixx
    Jan 3, 2012 at 16:20
  • 2
    And the only reference it cites is a 1957 copy of popular mechanics
    – none
    Jan 5, 2012 at 15:55
  • Should be closed as trivial, given that WIkipedia provides an answer. That said there are two good and colorful answers below, so let's keep it open..
    – MCW
    Aug 3, 2017 at 14:10

2 Answers 2


During websearch, found this material (in Russian), based on the Ian Harrison's book "The Book of Firsts".

According it, wooden lock was invented in the Egypt, and it looked like this: enter image description here

In Rome, people started to use the metallic locks:

enter image description here

And in modern times English locks became popular:

See also:

Update, based on your comment:

Acccording this, first keys on Papal coat of arms were in 1198, surely after the Romes invented the metallic lock. If you'll check the picture, the keys from it is in somethat similar to the Papal coat of arm's key.
enter image description here

  • In that case I wonder why on the Coat of arms of Vatican there are keys if such locks were invented only in 18th century as claimed.
    – Anixx
    May 9, 2012 at 17:56
  • 1
    @Anixx Updated the answer
    – VMAtm
    May 10, 2012 at 11:43
  • To me the keys on the picture and on the coat of arms are completely different.
    – Anixx
    May 10, 2012 at 18:33
  • 1
    @Anixx But they are the same principle of use and similar form.
    – VMAtm
    May 11, 2012 at 6:07
  • 1
    @Anixx On my second picture: 1. Long cilindric body. 2. Circle on the end of the key (in case in Vatican there a lot more fancy things, but it still similar) 3. Perpendicular main part of the key on the other end of it.
    – VMAtm
    May 11, 2012 at 10:42

The earliest known key lock is supposed to have been found in Nineveh, and was described by Joseph Bonomi in his 1857 book Nineveh and its Palaces:

Nineveh lock mechanism

The Wikipedia article on locks states that:

... Locks such as this were later developed into the Egyptian wooden pin lock, which consisted of a bolt, door fixture, and key.

The "Warded Lock" is perhaps the most recognisable form of key-lock today. These locks incorporated "wards", or fixed projections to prevent the wrong key being entered into the lock or turned. The earliest known examples of warded locks come from the Roman period. The evidence from this period seems to suggest that, although the keys were made of metal (usually iron), parts of the lock itself were still made of wood.

All-metal warded locks begin to appear in the late ninth century. This form of lock normally used keys that closely resemble what most people think of when they hear the word "key" today:

Ancient warded lock key

In the article Locksmiths Throughout History they make the claim that:

Warded locks made by English locksmiths in the years 870 – 900 AD were some of the first all-metal locks ever made.

This would correspond to the Reign of Alfred the Great in Wessex. Alfred's reign was characterised by conflicts with Viking raiders and invaders. It is not hard to imagine just how useful an all-metal lock would have been when trying to defend person and property from Viking attacks! If this dating is correct, it is also easy to understand the incentives that might have led to the development of these locks in England at that time.

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